BluFlux wins patent for antenna targeting smartphone dead zones

LOUISVILLE – Those dropped cellphone calls in “dead zones” may be all in your head.

That’s the theory behind the patent Louisville-based startup BluFlux announced on Tuesday for what it says is the world’s first cellphone case that increases antenna signal while reducing the radiation users receive from everyday use of those phones.

According to its founder and chief executive, Ben Wilmhoff, “The human head and hands block or absorb as much as 90 percent of the energy radiated by and transmitted to a cellphone” or contribute to a “detuning” effect of the phone’s “overworked” antenna. Wilmhoff said his band of “RF geeks” have come up with a way to divert that radiation away from the user’s head by routing the signal’s “phase center” through a different, external “flip-out” antenna that would be built into a smartphone case, thus “moving where radiation enters and leaves the phone.”

The deployable device can pop out of the protective case whenever the user is about to enter a “dead zone” such as the familiar one atop Davidson Mesa along U.S. Highway 36 southeast of Boulder, Wilmhoff said. That extra oomph – maybe as much as two bars’ worth of service– also would be helpful deep inside a building or in the Rocky Mountain backcountry.

An accompanying app “can keep track of areas where you frequently lose a signal and then predict a few seconds before you hit it” so the extra antenna can be deployed, Wilmhoff said. “That information can then be shared and crowdsourced.”

BluFlux, which was born in-house at Fort Collins-based smartphone case maker OtterBox and then launched in March 2014 with funding from OtterBox parent Blue Ocean Enterprises, will work with OtterBox and other case manufacturers to incorporate the technology, which could hit the market in early 2016, Wilmhoff said.

“While the immediate benefits of this technology are for handheld mobile devices, there is huge potential application to other industries like connected car technologies and consumer and industrial Internet of Things,” Wilmhoff said. Such devices “are often small and the space reserved for antennas is a tiny fraction of what is really needed for efficient performance. Our

technology allows antennas to be installed virtually anywhere on a small device without sacrificing performance or causing negative interaction with the surrounding environment.”

The company’s facility in Louisville has the only RF testing chamber between the Mississippi River and San Diego – in which Wilmhoff noticed a marked improvement in cellphone reception using the new antenna – and is helping companies bring the next generation of wireless, wearable, connected-car, drone, machine-to-machine and Internet of Things devices to market.

The company is investing in development of wearable technology, which Business Insider predicted would be worth $12.6 billion by 2018. In late February, BluFlux hired Eric Roth as new director of product development. In 2000, he co-developed the first wearable Web-connected activity monitor, the SportBrain iStepX pedometer.